EDITORIAL NOTE: This guest blog post was written by Chuck O’Neal, natural resources chair for the League of Women Voters of Florida
It was a typical Florida summer day: 95 degrees with high humidity, the kind of day you might step into a steam room in order to cool off. Those were the conditions on the day I met local League member, Pat Grierson, on the streets of Sanford, Florida. Pat was armed with a clipboard and an endless supply of petitions. Who knew at that point that this mild-mannered lady would become a legend in her own time?
"Pardon me, have you heard about the conservation amendment?" she would ask one passerby after another. "It’s a citizens' initiative that will restore funding to protect our springs, rivers and green spaces. We need over 683,000 signatures from registered voters to get it on the 2014 ballot. Would you please sign?"
Each passerby would have a different set of questions for Pat to answer: How would it work? Where does the money come from? Will it raise my taxes? But nearly all of the time, they would sign and the required number grew closer. By the time the campaign was over, Pat had personally collected over 8,000 signed petitions and Amendment 1 made it onto Florida’s 2014 ballot.
Over the course of the campaign, Pat, other League members and our Florida Water and Land Legacy coalition partners reached the hearts and minds of Florida’s voters by sharing information on the importance of the issue through holding issue forums (PDF), organizing rallies and writing numerous letters to the editor and editorials. After the ballots were tallied, Amendment 1 passed with over 4.2 million votes, a commanding 75 percent of the votes cast. Very briefly, Amendment 1 will keep Florida’s waterways clean and to protect the surrounding lands without any tax increases.
Despite passage of the amendment, there continue to be challenges to get the legislature to honor the will of the voters. In addition to establishing environmental protections, Amendment 1 sought to reestablish a dedicated funding stream to purchase environmentally sensitive lands that were in danger of being developed. Amendment 1 would reestablish funding levels for this type of endeavor at a minimum of $150 million in 2015 and move back to $300 million in the coming years. The Florida League is working with its coalition partners to restore its traditional funding level by applying its influence at critical stages of the process, including by encouraging voters to contact their legislators to remind them of the will of the voters.
As we mark Earth Day and nearly six months since the passage of Amendment 1, we are reminded that the voters have spoken – quite clearly, in fact. Now the legislature must listen. In the Dr. Seuss classic, the Lorax once asked, "Who speaks for the trees?" In Florida, the answer is: Pat Grierson, the League of Women Voters of Florida and 4.2 million of their friends.